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tv   Justin Peters Discusses The Idealist  CSPAN  July 24, 2016 4:45pm-5:31pm EDT

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all tonight on c-span 2's booktv. [inaudible conversations] >> all right, welcome to thee 32nd null chicago tribune printers row lit fest. i want to thank our sponsors. the theme for this year's festival is "what is your story" and we encouraging you to share your stories from the weekend on twitter, instagram and facebook, using the #prlf16. you can keep the spirit of the lit fest going all year round by downloading the printers row app and you can find the premium book contents, free and discounted books and complete printers row lit fest skill. today you get a free ebook and five dollars any lit fest merchandise. today's program is being broadcast live on c-span 2's booktv.
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we'll leave ten minutes for q & a session so if you have any questions, please line up at the microphone to your right and ask the question in the microphone so the home viewing audience can hear the question. and before we begin, please silence your phones and turn off any camera flashes. with that, i'd like to welcome prefer of digital media strategy at the school of journalism at northwestern used, and today's interviewer, owen youngman. >> thank you, tom, and welcome to -- welcome here to jones college prep. great to have you here. i'm sure you don't mind being in this air conditioned venue on this hot chicago day. we're delighted today to welcome a son of the north shore, justit peters, account for slate, formerly wrote a lot of thing is read in the columbia journalism as well, whose recently published book is "the
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idealist." aaron swartz and the rise of free culture on the internet. a book that is both biography and exploration of history and musings on the future. it puts in context so many of the struggles that those in the media have had with not just the media but in in the culture have had with the idea of what is free and what is valuable on the internet. steward brand famously said, information wants to be free. less famously said, information also wants to be expensive. and the tension between those two views is part of what is at the heart of what led aaron swartz from highland park, brilliant young man, who, whether you know it or not, has affected how you get information on the internet. to take his own life in the middle of a dispute over
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intellectual property. but this book is not just about aaron swartz as the subtitle says, it's about the rise of free culture on the internet also about the people before aaron swartz, who were grappling -- could you talk about those? >> as we were talking about before we came on stage i didn'k realize this book about aaron swartz suns actually going to be just about aaron swartz until i started writing it, and once i started writing it i realized we know what happened to aaron. we know how his story began. we now how it ended. what we don't really know, or at least what i didn't know, how did america get to the point where academic research papers are considered private property and downloading a lot of those papers without permission is considered a federal crime, punishable by up to 95 years in federal prison. once i realized that was going
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to be the central question of my book, i realized i had to go become in time to the beginnings of statutory copy right and trace the development from there to figure out how we got to at the point where away swartz kills himself in january 2013. to the book goes week in development hoff the gutenberg press and uses that first really disruptive technology as a way to sort of trace the coevolution of those notions that information wants to be free, and it also wants to be expensive, and it's usually thea readers who want the information to be free. and it's usually publishers and governments who want the information to remain expensive, and i stop at various points throughout history and look at various representative figures who believe in one or the other. >> one of the fascinating
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sentences that sticks in my mind is your -- as you are surveying the people's attitudes toward information in the internet, you say, those of us -- those people involved in the growth and the building of the internet think it's largely about, yes, but it has always, come mark -- always, come, always, been at no. talk about that idea and also about your emphasis of it. >> i say that right at the beginning of the book because there is this sort of strain of utopianism. that animates a lot of what the set of earliest web colonists ex-if you will are thought the web would be. a transformative medium thatat brings disparate people together to learn from each other, to
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work on projects together, to collaborate. we have got the ability to share information and share stories and share conversations with the click of a button. it's easier now than ever before. so much less technological friction. but the development of devices that remove technological friction do not remove social friction. right? in fact, often they create more social friction. and that's really one of the main points of the book, that every sort of new device that comes along to make it easier to transfer information from one party to another, the gutenberg press, offset printing press, radio, television, the tape recorder, the one-piece photo copier this, internet, there are always these social forces that react against the development of these technologies.
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that say, wait a seconder great now information is more free but we have businesses built on monetizing the technology that exists, and if these new technologies are going to imperil our existing business model, have to pass laws or do something to make sure that doesn't happen. >> you correctly characterized another institution as -- that we wouldn't ordinarily think of as a technology, as falling into that category and that's the free public lending library. that was a technology for sharing, and interestingly, you could argue that it was the guilt that andrew carnegie and others felt about fleecing theeb masses that led to the establishment of these >> die argue that and have a lot more of that in the early drafts of the book, then there are points i was write, i'm interested in this three-page digression on the carnegie libraries but there's probably only four other people who are
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going to read this book who are, so i should remove it. but, yeah, one could make a case that carnegie was trying to expiate his guilt for homestead strike and a bunch of other things by opening these lending libraries for the benefit of the working man across america. but you're absolutely right, owen their public lending library was a technology as much as the prisoning press was, as much as internet was. in fact i draw all of these sort of comparisons between the role that the free public library played in the development of america and the development of the notion that america is this sort of place where the country benefits when information is made more accessible to those who can least afford it, and the development of the internet, and i think it's no surprise that
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sort of aaron swartz himself was a huge believer in the power of libraries and the power of material in libraries to transform the world. >> aaron swartz did not leave behind a lot of clues to what led him to his final decision, nor -- i mean, although he was a very public person in many ways in his writings on the internet, a lot of the inner workings than led thus-other than in a random manifesto here and there, do you get -- did you get a sense from your research of what turned him from this brilliant idio sin thattic kid in highland park, into this crusader on behalf of an idea? >> it's hard to pin point one event that turned him from one to the other.s before he turned 21 he sealed
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company to conde naste for what was probably eight figures and he had partners but this was a guy who, at a very young age, had achieved what millions of people, working towards and dreaming towards, and anyone taste resting on his laurels, going to start more companies, he reacted physically against the notion that, well, i'm an entrepreneur now, and instead devoted the rest of his life to doing what was probably the polar opposite of what everyone expected him to do. but to get back to your question, i think from as early as days as computer prodigy in highland park, spending his off hours on the internet, communicating and collaborating with a bunch of very accomplished adults to build the
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next generation of the open web, that he saw the power of the collaborative dynamic that the web could promote. right? saw the power of a medium that would allow a precocious, very sort of enthusiastic teenager, to be accepted as a peer with computer scientists and law professors and it was a world in which you were judged by the quality of your contributions, not your credentials that have been con federal by some hierarchical institution. and that idea that there was sort of a world that could be more inclusive to sort of contributions and ideas from all parties. really sort of stuck with him throughout his life. whenever he ran into institutions that were the opposite of that, right? high school, he spent his ninth
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grade year at north shore country day school on the north shore, trying to convince his principal to basically change the way at the school worked. there's a part in the book where i say he would schedule meetings with the principal and hand this guy articles on education reform that he had xeroxed, and i just -- when i learned that i just imagined the flummoxed look that must have played on this guy's face as this small, high-pitched voice kid is trying to tell him how to do his job better. but his proposed reforms didn't take so he left high school early. he went to stanford, lasted one year. didn't like it. left. went to silicon valley. sold his company to conde naste. moved out to california to work from the offices of wired news,
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on his blog help wrote his first day of work ended with him crying in the bathroom because h it was so horrible. to be clear to there was nothing objectively horrible about his office. this is one of those offices that you read about. probably had ping-pong tables and nap pods and stuff that youl people want to have in an office, but for aaron it was an office. where he had to make other people's priorities his priorities. he had to make other people the center of his universe and he was not prepared to do that, ever. that sort of resistance to other people sort of telling him what to do, other people telling him what was best, even though he could clearly see it wasn't best, sort of drove him throughout his life. >> that is another thread in thd book is that aaron, although in many ways a unique individual, was not necessarily --... a
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series of lean earnest young men and women determined to make a difference in this world of free information and its culture and tryi mac determined to make a difference who are a couple of those lean, earnest individuals who stick in your mind? >> noah webster was leading an earnest when he set off on horseback in connecticut in 1786 to go to every single state legislator in america to try toe lobby them for past copyright laws. i call webster the father of
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copyright in america. the nickname stuck because webster was perhaps the first person who is determined to make his living solely by what he had written. so webster realize that in a world without statutory copyright laws there is really no way that an author who is not a means could make a living from what he wrote. this is before, this was an article of confederation area, there is no strong federal government so each state had its own copyright laws or didn't. webster said i want to write this book and i want people to read it and i want to not havele to work for a living and write books at candlelight so i am going to go from legislator to
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legislator and lobbied them for copyright laws and that's what he did and then when the federa government passed the copyright act of 1790 it was very much webster's example that led that law to take the shape did. webster is one of the lien, earnest young men that we meet in the idealists. then we can fast forward almost 200 years to michael hart, it wasn't lean, he was a very bulky guy, he is probably one of the most earnest people have ever lived. michael hart was the father of a website and an ideal called project gutenberg. it it was the first person to put an e-book and to put documents online. he was a student at the u of i in 1971 when in a series of onyh
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unexpected events he got access to a mainframe computer in their science laboratory. the computer computer was connected to local campus network. hart realized that he had been given great power and he wanted to do something great with it. it was july 4, 1971. he had been to the grocery store earlier that day in a patriotic checkout clerk slipped a copy of the declaration of independence of his bag. and he had this brainstorm and said i'm going to type out the declaration of independence and put it on this campus network so anyone whos wants to access it can access it. he did and no one accessed it because it was 1971 and 71 and the grocery stores were given away copies for free. it was leslie outcome of what happened than the fact that he had done something like that
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there's going to come a day when the internet is going to be the library of choice for the world and i want to spend the rest of my life typing things up and putting them online and that is what he did. >> think about this if or talk about the content in the 80s michael hart and others like him type the complete works oft scai shakespeare so they can be accessed online, he top the entire bible.
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>> this is not the guy who's using the most updated version of microsoft word. he's using the software that existed in the eighties. he spent most of the 80s typing up the king james bible. it's a very long a very long book, but also the technology that existed for people out there who wanted to type up books and put it online that. >> when he started typing, the the only choice you had was all caps. >> that's right. >> and his books are all in full caps because that was writing online was like in the 19 seventies. >> the reason i going to people like webster and hart is is not just because they're fascinating, they are and honestly there are times when i was writing this book when i was thinking i could be writing a book about michael hart, maybe i will at some point. the point is exactly to put schwartz in line with the information i idealistic before him. to make the point that his story is not unique in the history of the world that is
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very much exists as a descendent of the sort of figures that pop up every 20 or 30 years in world history. people who are determined to change the world by sharing information and determined to harangue other people into >> caring about the matters as much as they do. >> and always to borrow a phrase, encountering existence from people of other interests, many of them interests, we may have people in our viewing audience on c-span or in the auditorium who do not know whypr aaron swartz was arrested, charged, pursued by prosecutors and ultimately found himself in a corner of not of his own making.
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maybe you could just recap whata led to the event that caused all of the. >> in september 2010 aaron swartz who, swartz who, at the time was working at harvard university at the center for ethics, he was a fellow there. he walks down massachusetts to the campus of the institute of technology, and he connects to the computer network and connects to a database called j store, it stands for journal storage it is a nonprofit database that contains full, digital back files of hundreds of academic journals. it's a fantastic resource. by connecting by connecting through mit's computer system he could access it for free. so he connected to j store heti runs a computer program and starts to download articles very
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rapidly. hundreds of articles per second, something like that. so effective that it ends up crashing the servers but when it is running the j store tech people say something is happening and they cut off his access he comes back the next day connects a different ip address and he gets cut off again. he he comes back the next month, runs the same sort of dance and they say something is going on we don't know who is downloading all the articles, it is an over jealous the professor student are they harker hackers who want to take our archive and give them away for free online thus diminishing the value of the archives, we don't know. luckily, the storm storm passes and i think whoever was doingar, this stuff is gone. but it was
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aaron who is downloading these papers what he found a better better way to do it. he found a basement on the campus and it was a wiring closet.not he jacked his computer directly into the campus network and he tweaked his download program to not overthrow the computers. this was november of 2010. he was slowly draining the entire archive. it went undetected until around new year's. then there like this guy's back, we need need to find him and stop him. they found them, set up a a camera in the closet where his. computer was, they got a picture of aaron, he was covering his
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face with a bicycle helmet but it was a poor disguise. two hours after he had come to retrieve his computer mit polic. found him riding his bike up the avenue in cambridge back towards his apartment. they. they chased him down, they chased into a parking lot, they arrested him. when they found his laptop and looked at his hard drive they realized he had downloaded 4.7 million j store articles. the majority of their database.h he gave the papers back. but that did not stop the u.s. attorney's office in boston prosecuting him. first they charged him with four felonies under the computer fraud and abuse act with a maximum penalty of 35 years in prison and million-dollar in fines. the lawyers in the audience are aware that in order to encouragh him to sign a plea bargain to spare the government the time and expense of going to trial, but the u.s. attorney's office's office was adamant that swartz would have to spend some time in prison, likewise he was adamant
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he did not want to go to prison. he did not feel like he had done anything that merited prisonimas time. he did not think he would fare well prison, even the most put r minimum-security camp. the terms of the plea agreement would have given him put restrictions on his access to computers after he was released. this was tantamount to being blinded for a guy who lived his life online.of he would not agree to a plea deal and the u.s. attorney's office in boston came back in september 2012 with a superseding indictment a superseding indictment that raised the felony charges from f time from 35295 years and defines from 1000000 - 3000000 plus.pp he is negative spend that amount of time in prison. but the assistant u.s. attorney
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in charge of the case may clear that if the government when the case he would ask for federal guideline sentence in about seven years in prison. j store made it clear that they do not want to see swartz prosecuted. they got the property back, they did not want to see him go to jail mit said nothing, they maintained institutional silence for the entirety of the case.cld swartz, his his lawyers thought they had a decent chance ofriveb giving evidence excluded, they thought his computer and hard drive had been had been searched and seized without permission. there were hopes that they would win this case but in january, on january 11, 2013, for whatever reason swartz hanged himself in his apartment in crown heights,
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brooklyn. that is where that part of the story ends. but the story of his legacy really continues, he goes on from there. it's continuing today. >> one of the many interesting things both before and after that fact which you are ready alluded to is the silence of mit which he was not attending are working for mit, but he is the access he had to the mit network to begin this and continue this process. what mit did or did not do caused an enormous firestone of commentary across all ofof academia as well as the internet community. why was this place of higher learning and exploration
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complicit in prosecuting someone for pursuing an ideal? >> the thing about mit is the institute likes to present itself as an open society. the doors to building seven, there never locked. for years local drama troops held impromptu rehearsals and mit classrooms with the approval of the mit there are all of these trappings of transparency that really run through the story of the u institution tells about itself. mit is also the model s-uppercase-letter university. it is not a judgment on my part, it's just a statement of fact. o
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the schools starting in 1919 made it an institutional priority to go out and seek partnerships with industry to make it self, i think the word was transcendent usefulness to the industrial world. they got got very good at that and innm world war ii when it started to handle government contracts to research were technologies for the u.s. military it got very good at becoming a research arm for the federal government as well. in the years succeeding world war ii as the entire academic science sort of transition from a world where they were doing pure science to a world where they were getting all of thesegn massive research grants from the federal government in seeking partnerships with industry. besides these were getting more specialized and more money was coming in mit kept leading the
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way. and there is good and bad sort of things about that. like part of the reason why big research institutes like mit are so productive is because there's so outside money coming into them. the world we have is there's probably 40 things of this auditorium that we would not have if not for all of this federal money, but it also makes places like mit theories sort of aware of who is buttering their bread.mperil t and to do anything that might imperil their contracts are at the very least give the messagee to industry that mit or schoolsn are not the sort of places that respect the property rights. so mit maintained maintained institutional silence throughout the swartz prosecution, i thinke
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the state of affairs that i laid out as part of the reasons why. >> institutions like mit obviously have played a huge role in advancing what the internet is, in my part of the world the media world, the mit media lab founded by nicholas. [inaudible] has worked with companies in the legacy media space for long time trying to help them understand what the fracture looks like. so this uneasy collaboration among government and private industry and academia is in part a proximate cause of theh disputes at large over what should be free, was to be paid for, what, what should bee protected under copyright, what should not.. by the way, none of us should think that these matters of copyright law have been, or are
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ever settled. in fact, we are right round the corner from the expiration of another chunk of the copyright act i think in 2018. >> yes, 2018. >> yes, the sunny bonow copyright terms extension act which was. >> the mickey mouse act for those who do not recognize the name of the bill. >> it is is i got 20 more years babe act. thank you, you're too kind. bac sunny bonow was sort of not just sonny and cher guy, he was a congressman. when he died in a skiing accident in the late 90s his widow assumed to spouting congress and told her colleagues that sonny believes that copyrights should be forever. the colleagues in congress, with significant encouragement from
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walt disney company and other companies that were on the verge of losing the copyrights on their blueprint lucrative corporate mascots decided to extend the copyright terms by about 20 years, thus impoverishing the public domain. those extensions are going to start to run out in 2018. if history is any guide, i think we can expect companies like disney year publishers to get together and tried to find a way to extend those. it's not all bad that they're doing that, remember when i soo this book in the first place, some of my publisher mention that part of the reason that were around and thriving now and were able to give you an advance to write this book is because we sell hundreds of thousands of copies of great scans be every to schoolchildren. without copyright terms of
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extension they would not be able to do that. so i get that this gets back to the theme of the book which is perhaps an unsatisfying thing but i think it's true, everything is more complicated than anything. everything's. i wanted to write i wanted to writing this book very much not on aaron swartz's side they mentioned at the beginning here i spent many years working at the columbia journalism review for professional the partisan is working there around the time that the news industry started collapsing after the economicc crash in 2007 and 2008.nes we these papers were folding, the the seattle pi, the rocky mountain news, all of these
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magazines were shrinking and disappearing and we are asking why, what we do to stop this. probably part of the reason is nobody's paying for the news anymore. build that pay wall, build it high, don't let in one through. all these pre-culture people the information wants to be free, what they're really saying is, you, what they're really saying is, you don't deserve to have a job. so that was the standpoint i went into this with. the more i read about it, the more i thought it was complicated. >> it is more complicated than that. we'd be be delighted for you to ask questions in the las few minutes. if if you have one please line up at the microphone on my left, so the viewing audience at home and in future on the internet will be able to hear your question., >> what you think aaron swartz, while were waiting to see if any one will take the bait, what do you think aaron swartz would make of the discussion that was engendered by his death? >> i think he would be happy the
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people are discussing issues that he cares about. t i think he would also want to make the point the story is not about him. right, his story had a tragic end but the story of error in shorts is not just a story where in shorts. it's the story story of aaron swartz and the rise of free culture on the internet. i think a lot of the attention that has been given to the story has focused on aaron as a tragic figure in that is understandable, is a very tragic figure but aaron was always more interested in systems then and necessarily individual actorscu and systems. the more we can focus the attention paid on his story to the story the system created and destroyed him, all the better. >> in a real way the cover of the book, which is available for
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pictures sent to have justin sign if you like is a pointillist portrait of aaron that only emerges when you look hard and the ideas are in the forefront of justin's image in the background. this sort of fits that and will be happy to take your question. >> thank you my question is why was he downloading all this information in the first place? >> place? >> that's a great question, he never explained why he was doing it or what he wanted it for. there are some clues that might indicate his reasoning. in 2008 he put his name to a document called the gorilla, that is a that is a gu e, guerrilla open access manifesto in which he wrote that it was unconscionable that all of this useful academic research was consigned to subscription databases and that people in the first world were able to access
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it while people in the third world had to go without. and it was incompetent on people who had access to these databases to go into them and access as much material as they could find in to spread ite agas around to people who went without. now that was the thesis that animated the government government's case. they saw the document and said this is what he wanted to do. it's always more complicated though, i've heard very sort of convincing. >> they thought he was doing it for profit. >> no not for prophet, they thought he was doing it in a way that would make jay stores material less profitable to j store. but i think it's just as feasible that he wanted to access this material to separate out the public domain documents
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inside and release those are maybe just run some sort of giant analysis on a data shed, it's hard to say for sure. >> academic publishing is an interesting subfield in which professors, many being paid by public universities are doing research on the public dime and publishing dime of publishing articles that are then reviewed by other professors work for other universities and handed over to a private company to publish and charge a bigub subscription fee and who reallyh owns that if the taxpayers of illinois were paying a professor who is writing a paper that was in j store. that's one of the things that's at the root of it. >> i read something before coming here today which is that the european union commission just at the end of may that all publicly funded academic research papers in europe should
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be made free to the public upon publication and if this takes hold and to pass it will be transformative. a completely revolutionary. >> it will destroy read all severe which. >> he made $9 billion in revenue last year he'll find a way. >> yes, your question. >> i used to work for small mental health nonprofit for parents with kids with mental d health issues. we did find these articles like read and different street research that they could have benefited from hearing more about and they had the interest in reading these articles but the company, the size we were we cannot afford to pay the very large fees that the company would charge to reproduce in any form even on this small website.
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i observed that it seems like that would have maybe a in effect both on dissemination and scientific knowledge that can benefit communities and on i guess innovation and research in general, like moving them forward. so it just led me to wonder, yot said that you cover in the book a little about the history of these journals not being free and the anonymous paid database, can you give a brief back ground on how that came to be? >> so just a 32nd version, had to do something called the serials pricing crisis which first came to pass in the 1970s where increased specialization in the sciences as a result of the postwar
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science spending boom led to a rise on new sorts of journals. there is demand for all of these journals and the prices for subscribing to the journals started rising at a higher rate greater than inflation. this continued unabated since the 1970s. the point where today you askk d any academic library and they will say that one of the biggest questions is how do we find room in our acquisitions budget for anything that is it an academic journal that they spent amounts on the journals that might cost ten or 20,000 dollars dollars per year to subscribe to. that is part of the reason why some of the journals are so expensive today. why are they behind pay walls
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right now, i suppose a way to try to protect the profits that these companies have made and continue to make. >> i tell my students at northwestern they will never have access to more information through our library then theyken will now do the four years devastated.that is northwestern is spending money to make this research available. that is not not necessarily true at public universities. there is a lot of literature on the subject that you could find. we have exactly one minute. if you can ask your question in 20 seconds you have 40 seconds answer it. >> aaron did very similar thing with pacer, fdi was all over them and then they bugged out, they left them alone i decided
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to leave them alone. this this is a very similar situation ands then they went out and went after them with all of the forces of hell. was it just malicious prosecution, or why what do you. think they change? >> it is hard to say for sure,e, maybe jurisdiction or bad luck. the pacer case never made it to the u.s. attorney's office. it stayed in the investigatoryio phase. the j store incident very quickly move from investigatory phase to something that the prosecutors had. once i got in the attorneys offices hands on those offices exist to prosecute. prosecute they did. >> we like to thank you again for attending pictures role. we think justin. clapmac. [applause]. here is his book. it is for sale outside and tom can probably direct you to the


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